Is there a Doctor in the Church?

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Continuing our ongoing series on whether or not church leaders need PhDs.

“Should I pursue a doctorate?…” Many pastors and others in ministry with a theological masters degree have asked themselves that question. I struggled with this question myself, and over the past almost three decades since I received my doctorate, I have walked alongside others as they worked through their own answers with the Lord. I have found that often two additional questions arise when considering doctoral studies: “What kind of doctorate should I pursue?…a Doctor of Philosophy (or Theology; Ph.D./D.Phil./Th.D.) or a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)? Where should I do my degree?…at a seminary or a university?

Since I have a somewhat distinctive perspective on these questions as someone with a Ph.D. (Ecclesiastical History from the University of St. Andrews), who has primarily served as a pastor, and has directed and taught in a D.Min. Program for almost a decade and a half, let me share some thoughts that have helped me and others in this discernment process. If you will indulge me as a church historian, let me delay answering these personal questions to ask a more foundational historical question: Why does the church need doctors of any kind in the first place? We don’t expect the architect who designs our church to have a doctorate, why would anyone think that the pastor who preaches in it should?!

Part of the answer comes from understanding what “doctor” means, which basically is “teacher” (from Latin docere, to teach: doctrine/indoctrinate, etc.). The early and Medieval church designated great theologians such as Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, or Catherine of Siena as a doctor ecclesiae, a “doctor of the church.” John Calvin developed this role …

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